The Collection

Just as Yale itself came into being with a gift of books, so too did the Elizabethan Club. Alexander Smith Cochran’s founding gift in 1911 included a handsome clubhouse, an endowment, and what had quickly become one of the nation’s finest private collections of Elizabethan literature. “If there were an undergraduate club, with a remarkable library as a nucleus,” Professor William Lyon Phelps later recalled, “he thought students who loved literature and the arts would be glad to meet there and talk informally and naturally about literature, both with their contemporaries and with congenial members of the Faculty.” 

Gifts and purchases have augmented the collection for more than a century. What began as a fine collection of early modern English literature, especially strong in Shakespeare and other Tudor and Stuart drama, has expanded to include important manuscripts and annotated books and such remarkable and evocative survivals as the “Mock Charter,” a stage prop from the entertainment Queen Elizabeth held to mark Lord Burghley’s retirement in 1591, and the Oedipus Manuscript, an Elizabethan manuscript of “A tragedy called Oedipus” intended for performance by the pupils of a grammar school. As it has been since 1911, the collection is housed at the Club and shared regularly with interested members and guests. Items from the collection may also be used at Yale’s Beinecke Library, where they make regular appearances in the reading room and in classroom teaching.

The rare book and manuscript collections are described in The Elizabethan Club of Yale University and its Library by Stephen Parks, published for the Elizabethan Club by Yale University Press in 2011. Produced in celebration of the Club’s Centenary, this catalog is a second, greatly enlarged edition of the catalog first published in 1986. It is finely illustrated with color photographs of the Club by Richard Cheek and full-color reproductions of the collection. Alan Bell’s newly revised introduction to the centenary edition of the catalog provides a  narrative of the provenance of the collection that was Alexander Smith Cochran’s original gift and the additions which have been made to it. In addition to full descriptions of the rare books in the Elizabethan Club collection, the catalog provides a listing by Earle Havens of the Club’s collection of manuscripts and objects. Copies of this printed catalog may be purchased or found through Yale University Library.

The Elizabethan Club’s rare books and manuscripts are catalogued in Orbis, Yale University’s online catalog.  Items represented in Orbis may be located by using the Call Number (Local) “eliz”. If you wish to examine an item in the collection, it will be necessary to register at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and request to use it in the Beinecke reading room. Please contact the Beinecke Library in advance of your visit to ensure that your request can be fulfilled. Specific questions about the Elizabethan Club Library may be directed to the Club Librarian, Basie Bales Gitlin, at